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Originally published October 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 3, 2008 at 2:49 PM

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Lance Dickie / Seattle Times editorial columnist

As American empire wanes, the world shrugs its shoulders

The next president faces the reality of a world wholly less inclined to follow America's lead.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

Barack Obama or John McCain, it does not matter. The next president faces the reality of a world wholly less inclined to follow America's lead.

How could this be? The United States remains the singular world power, even with a battered and bruised economy. No other country is a match for this nation's military might. Turns out the resounding global chorus is, "So what?"

Sens. Obama and McCain are receiving this sober assessment from an equally sober source, Thomas Fingar, the top analyst in the U.S. intelligence community. His report, "Global Trends 2025," argues the erosion of U.S. leadership in political, economic and even cultural areas is accelerating.

Fingar, who will brief the new president, shared his findings with an organization of intelligence analysts last month, and The Washington Post covered his speech. His talk echoed a book that is a must-read, "The Post-American World," by Fareed Zakaria. The first sentence in the slim but powerful volume sets the tone: "This is not a book about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else."

Zakaria, a journalist and commentator on world affairs, recently made news suggesting Republican John McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a running mate was irresponsible. Upset by the comment? Make a point of reading his book.

As other countries gain economic momentum, they are more inclined to talk among themselves, and not look to the U.S. for leadership. East Asian economies are hinting at forming an alliance akin to the European Union. The United States is watching from the outside.

Nor are the rising powers likely to heed international organizations such as the World Bank and United Nations. The Bush administration was abundantly clear it would pick and choose its allegiances, so the contempt spread from the top.

Fingar cannot say how international groups will evolve and what they will look like, but he is certain the U.S. will no longer be able to dictate their structure and missions. Globalization has diffused influence along with economic power.

Fingar predicts the consequences of climate change, with resulting droughts, food shortages and scarcity of water, will trigger mass migration and political upheaval.

The United States can spend itself into the poorhouse on military hardware, and the rest of the world will happily abide America's consumption and diversion of economic resources. No one else is gearing up for epic land and sea battles or posing the threat.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently noted the limits of military technology. Even the Pentagon's gilded budget cannot afford it, and no matter how hard someone tries to gin up another Cold War, Russia does not appear eager to indulge the lucrative desire.

The Bush administration spent eight years abrading global organizations, treaties and conventions. From the beginning, President Bush spurned diplomacy. His refusal to engage others made the point he did not need anyone else. Only in the closing moments of his last term did he chase after a peace plan in the Middle East and ink on paper with North Korea.

The U.S. is tottering around Africa amazed that skeptical countries are suspicious of what appears to be an effort to militarize foreign policy.

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan spoke of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney packaging their version of the truth. They also operated with delusional views of U.S. autonomy in the world. They squandered moral authority and political influence nurtured over generations.

Last month at the United Nations, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, "American empire in the world is reaching the end of the road, and its next rulers must limit their interference to their own borders." He meant to be snide.

The next president will hear a respected analyst repeat a version of the same reality.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is ldickie@seattletimes.com; for a podcast Q&A with the author, go to www.seattletimes.com/edcetera

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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